Suffering as Supremacy

Past Events Do Not Obviate That We Are All Equally Human

Annette Herskovits wrote an essay that is strongly supportive of Palestinians rights and dismissive of many myths surrounding Palestine.1 For example, she states, “That Israel was built on Arab land, whether bought or confiscated, is undeniable.”

It is a seeming admission that the entirety of Israel is situated on historical Palestine, something few Jews care to admit. It is similar to how few Canadians or Americans care to admit that their states are erected on the territory of Indigenous nations. However, Herskovits also writes of Israel’s “44-year long occupation of the Palestinian Territories.” Is it an occupation only of the Palestinian Territories or is it also an occupation of the entirety of historical Palestine? Some may quibble that it is now formally an international state by virtue of United Nations Partition Plan of 1948 and UN General Assembly Resolution 273 (although not ratified by the UN Security Council).2 Did the UN have legal right to partition Palestine in the first place? Did the UN act according to moral principles in partitioning Palestine? If not, how can it be at all legitimate? Ratification is secondary to deliberate theft of a land belonging to another. There was no Israel at any time in Palestine.

Herskovits writes that “…this fiction on the American collective mind reflects a conjuncture of causes: the West’s guilt about the Holocaust; the proto-Zionist theology of American evangelical sects; U.S. imperial interests in Middle East oil reserves; and the West’s long-distrust of and contempt for Arabs and Muslims.”

If guilt is called for, should the West’s guilt be confined to one Holocaust? Should the West not feel guilt over the American Holocaust,3 as professor David Stannard calls the genocide wreaked by Europeans on the Original Peoples in the western hemisphere? There are also the genocides in Australia and elsewhere that were perpetrated by Europeans.

Herskovits takes aim at hasbara: “Propaganda produced by Israel and the American Jewish establishment inverts reality.”

She credits “scholars—Arab, Jewish, and other—who challenge the deceptive narratives” for bringing the justice of the Palestinian cause greater exposure, with a focus on Gilbert Achcar and his book, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.

Herskovits often writes disparagingly of “pro-Israel zealots, who attribute hostility to Israel in the Arab world not to Israel’s actions, but to Arabs’ hatred of Jews: hatred, they argue, which originated in Islam and flourished with the Arabs’ collaboration with the Nazis during WWII.”

Herskovits is a survivor of human barbarity. The experience guides her:

As someone whose mother and father were murdered in Auschwitz, and who herself survived the Nazis’ barbarous nationalism thanks to the courage of a group of Catholics, Protestants, Communists, and Jews, I find the idea that defending the “Jewish state” supersedes all other human obligations both immoral and senseless. Nothing, not even the Holocaust, justifies Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or the continuing efforts of pro-Israel zealots to show Arabs and Muslims as less than human. Israel and its unconditional supporters are on a path leading to catastrophe not only for Palestinians, but in the not very long run, for Israel itself.

Racism

Referring to Achcar’s The Arabs and the Holocaust, Herskovits argues against the defamation of an entire group of people: “It is only among ‘reactionary and/or fundamentalist pan-Islamists’ that significant anti-Semitism and support for Nazism were found.” What Herskovits does not mention is that Zionists were in league with Nazis.4 It does not make right any racism expressed by an out-group, but it is important to note those casting stones are living in glass houses.

From Achcar: “There are more anti-Semites among the Arabs today than among any other population group—for obvious historical reasons.” Activist scholar Noam Chomsky wrote, “Contempt for the Arab population is deeply rooted in Zionist thought.” Arabs are Semites.5

Herskovits says “end Israel’s ethnocentrism and expansionism—and Arab anti-Semitism would likely fade away.” First, Herskovits is grounded on human rights; the “ethnocentrism and expansionism” (I would phrase it “racism and colonialism”) must end. However, “anti-Semitism” is an incorrect term, unless it refers to the minority Hebrew-speaking Mizrahi Jews; the more accurate term would be “anti-Jew” if one is referring to prejudice against Jews. However, animus borne of crimes committed against oneself, one’s kin, one’s people/faith is not racism. If a group of marauders stole my money, beat me to a pulp, and burned down my abode, would it not be preposterous afterwards to call me an anti-marauder? Why should the already stigmatized victim be further stigmatized as being racist?

The ADL defines racism thus:

Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.

This definition would apply to few Arabs; but it definitely applies to most Zionist Jews.6

What Arabs — especially, but not confined to, Palestinians — feel is anti-the evil done by Jews; it is not anti-Jew. There is a massive difference. That Jews despise Germans for what the Nazis did to them, does that make them anti-Teutons? Or does it make them anti-the evil done by Nazis? If Jews share the feelings expressed by the holocaust denier, according to Noam Chomsky,7 Elie Wiesel

There is a time to love and a time to hate; whoever does not hate when he should does not deserve to love when he should, does not deserve to love when he is able. Perhaps, had we learned to hate more during the years of ordeal, fate itself would have taken fright. The Germans did their best to teach us but we were poor pupils in the discipline of hate. Yet today, even having been deserted by my hate during that fleeting visit to Germany, I cry out with all my heart against silence. Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set apart a zone of hate–healthy, virile hate–for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the dead.8

then, despite the illogic of his writing9 these Jews are guilty of racism because — as should be quite apparent — the sins of the ancestors should not be visited upon the descendants.

Trivializing War Crimes: Whose Suffering Was Greater?

In the documentary, Defamation, Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir depicts how Zionists and the state of Israel use “anti-Semitism” and the Holocaust as themes in sustaining Israel as the Jewish state. In one scene, American Israel Public Affairs Committee head Abe Foxman chides his Ukrainian government hosts.

Shamir narrates: “Foxman is concerned about the Ukrainian government’s comparison of the famine in the Ukraine before World War II with the holocaust.”

Foxman to president Viktor Yuschenko’s special advisor: “One thing that you need to be sensitive about is not to link it [inaudible]… Be careful that it not be played as your genocide, our genocide because that will be counter-productive on all sides.”

The argument smacks of supremacism: that no one may compare their genocide with the genocidet of Jews. Should such a depiction be unassailable especially knowing that the WWII holocaust is not exclusive to Jews and that Jews were not the most numerous victims?10 Is not the loss of all human life – regardless of ethnicity, religious persuasion, gender, sexuality, etc. – equally deplorable and lamentable?

Sadly, it appears as if Herskovits is making an argument for the supremacy of the victimhood of Jews during the WWII holocaust and denying a role as genocidaires by “pro-Israel ideologues” in her article. Echoing Foxman, Herskovits, by using Achcar as a foil, depicts the Nakba as “fortunately not a genocide, but what we could call an act of ethnic cleansing.”

She further quoted Achcar as saying peace requires

the mutual recognition of the tragedies of each other without putting them on the same plane … because the magnitude of the Holocaust cannot be compared to that of the Nakba… Nevertheless, this does not diminish the importance of what Palestinians have suffered.

Dealing with this excerpt from Foxman-channeling Achcar leaves one feeling perplexed. Let’s examine the assumptions. Do tragedies occupy space on abstract planes? Are genocides, massacres, atrocities to be numerically ordered into some scale of – for want of better language – least evil to evilest? Even if these assumptions hold, Achcar undermines his preceding words by implying that magnitude does not add to or take away from one’s suffering. What does Achcar want to say? Putting the pieces together, it sounds like Achcar is saying: We Arabs are suffering at the hands of Jews, but you Jews suffered more than us.

Herskovits seems torn because next she proffers, “In fact, it is rarely useful to compare the Holocaust and the ordeal of the Palestinians; it does not help us understand the reality of either.”

I would agree with this. Yet, then she carries on with a comparison: “This is not genocide, but what name is there for it?” Herskovits does not immediately answer her question, although she does bring up “ethnic cleansing” later in the essay. It is a comparison that relegates the tragedy experienced by the Other to another “plane” — implicitly below that of genocide. The WWII holocaust is genocide, probably the genocide, in Herskovits’s mind. In Herskovits’ mind, the Nakba does not rise to the “plane” of a genocide.

Is “ethnic cleansing” not genocide?

Three researchers in Jerusalem — Rony Blum, Shira Sagi, and Elihu D. Richter – and Gregory H. Stanton, a research professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University, as well as the founder and president of Genocide Watch tackled the terminology of “ethnic cleansing.”

The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is used as a euphemism for genocide despite it having no legal status. … Bystanders’ use of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ signals the lack of will to stop genocide, resulting in huge increases in deaths, and undermines international legal obligations of acknowledging genocide. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ corrupts observation, interpretation, ethical judgment and decision-making, thereby undermining the aim of public health. Public health should lead the way in expunging the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ from official use. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ bleaches the atrocities of genocide, leading to inaction in preventing current and future genocides.11

Historian Ilan Pappe, in his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, courageously acknowledged the expulsion of almost 800,000 people, the destruction of 531 villages and 11 urban neighborhoods, and the Zionist atrocities against Palestinians.12 A question arose, however, if Pappe fudged on the definitional question of genocide.

Pappe wrote, “Ethnic cleansing is not genocide, but it does carry with it atrocious acts of mass killing and butchery.”13 Pappe considers 1948 is a “clear cut case, according to informed and scholarly definitions, of ethnic cleansing.”

Writer and activist Gary Zatzman demurs,

Ilan Pappe is one of those who fudges this question. He says what the Zionists do today in Gaza is genocide, but what they did in Mandate Palestine since 1947 and in the West Bank since 1967 was ethnic cleansing. DISINFORMATION ALERT! …

It is ALL genocide. The intention of the Haganah was to genocide the Palestinians. It’s very convenient to say, à la Golda Meir, that the Zionists didn’t think of the Palestinians as a people or nationality, just an inconvenient obstacle. The FACT is they prepared and executed genocide. It doesn’t matter, either, that the Zionists didn’t get all the Palestinians in one fell swoop, but have dragged it out over the last 58 years. It is still genocide. To suggest the survivors of the Judeocide were incapable of such a thing, which seems to be the only substance at the heart of the liberal Zionists’ argument, is utter nonsense. Were these survivors not psychically damaged by what they experienced before they were “liberated”? Such people were the ideal human material to set upon the Palestinians like wild beasts.14

Article 2 (a,b,c, & d) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide seems to apply well to the case of 1948 and also today:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin would assuredly recognize 1948 and subsequent actions by Jews as genocide, which he described:

[A] coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.15

Lemkin saw genocide as two-phased:

[O]ne, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals. Lemkin sees “genocide” as a crime against humanity involving myriad actions intended to “destroy or cripple permanently a human group.16

Herskovits ponders: “One question that bothers many people is how do you explain the cruel behavior of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering. … I think the major reason for that is education.”

Herskovits is a holocaust survivor trying to be open-minded and fair. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work because it serves as a diversion with the very genuine and ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people in their homeland at the hands of Zionist Israeli Jews. Instead, it comes across as an attempt to prioritize the suffering of Jews as opposed to the suffering of all others.

Herskovits shows antipathy for violence and sympathy for the victims of violence. She seeks a solution. She posits education. Surely education is important.

However, education must acknowledge the fact that, despite differences in skin color, beliefs, cultural practices, etc. we are all human beings, endowed with equal human rights. History is in the past, and attempting to gain prominence from the elevation of one’s own suffering and the diminishment of the Other’s suffering indicates a moral backwardness. Attempts to reify past events in a group’s history and raise them to a plane above other groups of humanity reveals miseducation. The lessons of history have been unlearned or abused. For what good reason should humans who show mutual respect and equally share the land and resources fight each other? There is no reason that the wrongs committed by our ancestors be repeated by the present generation. Education should teach that violence is anathema and should never be used to solve disputes, for though military victory might evince physical or technological might, it also evinces moral weakness. Humanity must en masse dismantle the infrastructure, language, and media of war and violence everywhere.

  1. Annette Herskovits, “Nazism, Zionism, and the Arab World,” Dissident Voice, 21 May 2012. []
  2. Resolution 273 is contingent upon Israel implementing UNGA Resolution 181 that defines the borders of Israel and Palestine and UNGA Resolution 194 that recognizes the right of return for Palestinian refugees. []
  3. See David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (London: Oxford University Press, 1992). []
  4. See Jews Against Zionism and Anti-Semitism, Melbourne, Australia, Nazi-Zionist Collaboration, (Britain, BAZO-Palestine Solidarity and AZAN in co-operation with JAZA: 1981); Lenni Brenner, “The Zionist Operation Was a Success, the Jewish Patients Died,” Dissident Voice, 31 October 2009. []
  5. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and The Palestinians (South End Press Classics, 1983,1999). Chomsky, also wrote, “Anti-Arab racism is, however, so widespread as to be unnoticeable; it is perhaps the only remaining form of racism to be regarded as legitimate.” []
  6. See Kim Petersen and B.J. Sabri, “Defining Israeli Zionist Racism, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11, and 12. Dissident Voice, December 2007-January 2008. []
  7. Quoted in Mickey Z., “Elie Wiesel: Madman or Commissar?Press Action, 6 June 2004. as saying: “… people like Elie Wiesel were carrying out their usual function of serving Israeli state interests, even to the extent of denying a holocaust, which he regularly does.” []
  8. Elie Wiesel, Legends of Our Time. []
  9. What conclusion should one draw from “The Germans did their best to teach us but we were poor pupils in the discipline of hate.” and “Every Jew… should set apart a zone of hate–healthy, virile hate–for … what persists in the German.” It sounds to this writer as if Wiesel said Jews did not learn to hate but that they hate Germans (not Nazis. Imagine the outrage if one wrote Jews instead of Zionists?) []
  10. The numbers vary among sources. See, for example, “World War II Casualties,” College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, San Francisco State University; “World War 2 Casualty Statistics,” Second World War History; and “Casualties Numbers by Country,” WWII Archives. []
  11. Rony Blum, Gregory H. Stanton, Shira Sagi and Elihu D. Richter, “‘Ethnic cleansing’ bleaches the atrocities of genocide,” The European Journal of Public Health Advance Access, 18 May 2007: 1-6. See also a critique of Blum et al. by Kim Petersen, “Bleaching the Atrocities of Genocide: Linguistic Honesty is Better with a Clear Conscience,” Dissident Voice, 7 June 2007. []
  12. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (Oneworld Publications, 2006). []
  13. Pappe, 197. []
  14. Quoted in Kim Petersen, “Nakba: The Israeli Holocaust Denial,” Dissident Voice, 18 March 2007. []
  15. Raphael Lemkin, “Genocide.” In Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation — Analysis of Government — Proposals for Redress (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), 79-95. Available at prevent genocide international. []
  16. Raphael Lemkin, “Genocide as a Crime under International Law,” American Journal of International Law (1947), 41(1):145-151. Available at prevent genocide international. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.